Sofia Vailieva, Abigail Breslin and Cameron Diaz talk about My Sisters Keeper.
Cameron Diaz joins Sofia Vassilieva and little Miss Sunshine herself aka Abigail Breslin in the latest weepy drama My Sisters Keeper. In the film, a couple’s daughter is stricken with leukemia, so they conceive a younger sister who can provide a donor match to help. The family is torn apart when, after years of medical procedures, the healthy younger sibling sues her parents for the right to decide how her body is used. Here , the trio talk sisters, working with director Nick Cassavetes and adapting the bestselling book for the big screen.
Q: Cameron, this is the first time you’re playing a mom, and playing a mom to teenagers is a big step for an actress. Was there any hesitation or concern about going that route, or was the material just too good to pass up?
Cameron: Yeah, I didn’t really think about it. I really don’t think about this stuff too hard. [Laughs] I just find my way through it. Nick [Cassavetes] brought me this script, and it was a wonderful script. I didn’t really even think about the fact that I would be playing a mother. I didn’t think about it, in terms of what it meant to my career. I thought of what it meant to the story, and who this woman was and what her life experience was and what was happening in front of her. I didn’t think, ‘Oh, my God, if I play a mother, and a mother of teenagers, how is this going to affect my career?’ It didn’t even phase me.
Q: Cameron, having a sister yourself, how did you feel when you read this script?
Cameron: Family is so important. What drew all of us to this story was the family, and the stories of each of these characters. Neither Sofia nor Abigail has a sister.
Abigail: In the movie, my character and Sofia’s character, Kate, are sisters, and my character loves her sister so much that she’s willing to go to any lengths to help her. That’s what I liked about the movie. You think that this family is all in this big problem, which they are, but they all love each other, even though they’re going through this whole thing.
Cameron: Reading this script, I think we all related to the fact that there isn’t anything that you wouldn’t give someone that you love that deeply. You do whatever it takes to keep that person alive. I think that that’s something that spoke to most of us, for this film, and what I think is so effective, in the film.
Q: What are you grateful for, in your own life, and what makes you happy?
Abigail: I guess I’m grateful for my whole family and all of my friends, and everybody who has been there for me.
Sofia: I guess I’m grateful for the experiences that I’ve gone through. And, finding a niche that I feel comfortable in, so early on. Working with incredible people who become your family and become so supportive, and become a foundation. And, the people I’ve come across, the incredible stories that I’ve heard and the relationships that I’ve built.
Cameron: Absolutely, I think the most important thing that I’ve found in my life is just my family and friends. Your wealth in life are the people that you get to love and who love you back, and all the experiences that you get to have with those people, throughout your life. Some come and some go. Some stay for a really long time, some leave quickly, some linger, and all of those experiences are the wealth of your soul. Those are the things that I’m most grateful for.
Q: Sofia, how did you feel the first time you looked in the mirror and saw yourself in this character?
Sofia: One day, when we were doing a screen test beforehand, we had just done one where it was the wig when the hair was falling out and it was the very beginning of it all, I remember I came into the trailer and I was hysterical. It was so hard to see yourself like that, and it was so hard to envision other people going through that, and that’s something that happens every single day. The two things that made that moment better were that Cammy and my mom were there, and they both fled in, when I was sitting in that chair, crying.
Cameron: It was so brave of her to do it. She was 15 when she did it. If anybody thinks back to when they were 15 years old, the last thing you want to do is shave your head and then your eyebrows. That’s when you’re getting a real sense of who you are. It’s so formidable. It was very brave for Sofia to do. It was amazing.
Sofia: And, I think that it let me see myself in a different light, being so new and pure, and having a completely fresh start. At 15, I wasn’t conformed to any idea of myself.
Q: Cameron, can you talk about working with Abigail and Sofia? Was there a specific scene with each of them where you felt like you hit that moment?
Cameron: Every scene with them. They are really amazing. They’re both extraordinary young women. What was amazing about working with Abby was that I realized you see her and you’re like, ‘Oh, she’s just a little girl,’ but she’s got so much power within her. I went up to her mother and said, ‘Your daughter is a warrior.’ She possesses something inside herself that is of the nature of a warrior, where she just knows how to push through. She can take all these things that are happening around her, that are these very adult, complicated, complex situations and ideas, and she’s able to somehow put something behind it with more strength than you see in most people. I was amazed by how strong she is. She’s just a powerhouse. And, Sofia is the most tender of tender. Everything is right there on the surface, at all times. You don’t want to fall into her depth too deep because you don’t where it’s going to end. She has such a depth of feeling and emotion. Both of these girls were so generous with me, as actors, every time. Abby was crying off camera, and I was like, ‘Sweetheart, you don’t have to cry off camera,’ and she was like, ‘It’s okay. I’ve got it.’ They were just so generous. And, Sofia, having to play a girl who is having to tell her mother that it’s okay for her to day was something where Sofia held me for those moments. It was such an enriching experience on a level that was totally new for me, so it was great.
Q: Can you talk about Nick Cassavetes, as a director, and whether you were familiar with his or his father’s work before you got involved with the project?
Abigail: My experience with Nick was that I met with him before we started filming, and he said, ‘Abby, I’m just going to tell you right now, this is going to be a work out and you’re going to have to do things in this movie that you probably don’t want to do,’ and I was like, ‘Okay.’ And then, I got to set and I was like, ‘Wow, he wasn’t lying.’ But, I think that Nick is a really good director. He just really sets the tone for the day. If it was a scene that was a really hard scene for someone, he would just say, ‘Okay, you’ve gotta be serious today. No joking around. This is a serious day.’ But, that’s what makes it good because you’re really into it, from the beginning. You’re in that mind-set of the scene.
Sofia: I had been a little bit familiar with Nick’s work, before we met. And, last Christmas, I got very familiar with Nick’s father’s work. But, working with Nick was incredible on a level that I had never experienced. As Abby said, he was really, really great at setting a tone, but what was different for me was that it was very personal and very connected. He has that incredible ability to just tune into that right feeling. He can really get that essence. You can just look at him and feel it, and it’s this incredible energy that overpowers the set, that was phenomenal to me.
Abigail: And, also, something I noticed was that I felt very comfortable to go up to him and say, ‘Do you think that it would be all right, if I did it this way?’ He was very open to any contributions.
Sofia: Nick was this leader of all of us, and he would give everybody their place to play and create, whether it was the actors or the prop department, or anything like that. He chose the right people to surround himself with that were the best of their craft and could create on their own, and he gave everybody that space, and the opportunity and freedom to go with it where they wanted to.
Cameron: I think him being an actor himself, prior to being the director he is today, really helps his ability to communicate with his actors. If you ask Nick, he’ll say that he loves actors, and he really does. He’s incredibly generous with his actors. He gives so much of himself, particularly in this movie, because it’s a very personal thing. He’s gone through having a sick child, and so he knew, really intimately, what this experience was like and he was able to give that to all of us, and communicate it in a way that really went to the core and essence of the experience and the moment. He just has a wonderful sense of humanity and what it really is to feel things on the level that these people feel.
Q: Cameron, did playing a mom to these young ladies knock loose any thoughts about where and when motherhood might fit into your life?
Cameron: No. Nope.
Q: Did you meet cancer patients before filming this?
Sofia: I had met with cancer patients and doctors, and visited City of Hope. We all fell in love with a few incredible kids, including Nicole, Paul and Kelsey. They really were there, on a daily basis, to be a guide and a reference point, and lead the way.
Q: What did you do in between takes to raise your spirits?
Sofia: Being in that condition was incredibly difficult. I don’t think there are words to describe it. And, I felt very isolated. Even though you’re the strength of the family and you’re telling them everything’s going to be okay, whether you’re here or not, you have to separate yourself from this world. You have to cut that off, and still be a part of it. So, in a way, I felt very alone. But, we did balance all of that nightmare that we were going through. There would be days when we’d have the most powerful scenes of the film and, when we were shooting, we would be going through that, over and over again. And then, we’d cut and we’d be telling ridiculous jokes that I still can’t bring up, to this day. So, the strength of the people around me — Nick, Abby, Cammy, Jason and the whole family — was such a strong unit, outside of the film, and they gave me strength.
Q: Cameron, can you talk about shaving your head, since that’s not easy to do?
Cameron: Yeah, I didn’t shave my head. My hair wouldn’t be this long if I shaved my head. Don’t listen to paparazzi, they know nothing.
Q: Cameron, did you ever feel like you really were the mom?
Cameron: The wonderful thing about our job is that we pretend. There’s a place of pretending, and that is on set and in the film, when we were rolling. But, I would never try to be these two girls’ moms, outside of that. It’s inappropriate, and I don’t feel that way about these girls. I had just met them, so our experience was very authentic to who we are, as Abby and Sophie and myself and Evan. So, we would hang out with one another, like people who just knew each other, as we did, which was a lot more fun. I don’t think they would like me as much, if I was actually their mother. [Laughs]
Abigail: Of course, doing the scenes, there is a certain time where you do have to stay in it, in between takes. There was one scene that me and Sophia did, where her character is trying to take these pills, and I remember thinking to myself, when we were in this dark room for a day and a half, doing this scene, and then walking outside for lunch and thinking, ‘It’s daylight still?’ There’s definitely a time when you do have to stay in it, but I think that we also managed to [do other things]. Cameron would cook in her trailer for us a lot. She made chili cheese fries, one day.
Cameron: I would ask the kids, ‘What do you want to eat today?,’ and each one of them got to pick what they got to eat for lunch, for a day. Evan always wanted fajitas, Abby wanted chili cheese fries and Sophia was on a special diet for the whole thing, so I would try to force her to eat stuff that she wasn’t supposed to.
Sofia: But, I held my ground.
Cameron: Her discipline was amazing. Her discipline is beyond. I had to talk her down from it, a couple of times. I was like, ‘After this, it’s over. No more discipline like this.’ We talked about balance. It’s okay to be disciplined for a period of time, but after that, it’s about balance. You can still have it in your life, but you can’t be so strict. But, she got out of it.
Q: Can you talk about feeling a connection with people who have actually gone through this, and how difficult it will be for someone who has had a family member go through this, or have a personal experience with it?
Sofia: One of my very big concerns, after having met with Nicole, was how is this movie going to affect those who have gone through it and who’ve lived this, day in and day out.
Cameron: Nicole was one of the girls who was Sofia’s advisor.
Sofia: She was my guiding light. And so, I sat down with her and said, ‘You’ve been through this, you’ve seen this, you know this firsthand. How can you go see it?’ And, she looked at me and told me that we’d be telling the story of these people and these families. When people’s stories are told, it’s always very important to give that lesson that they’ve learned and the stories that they’ve lived. She told me, ‘You go do them justice. You go show these people what lives are like. Don’t shy away from hiding it, or being overly kind. Show the reality of it because that’s what it was.’ We’re not a family, we’re not related, we weren’t going through it, but I felt pretty confident that we did everything in our power and pushed every line we could to create this story, to honor it, and to create relationships that would make it significantly real and important.
Cameron: All we can do, as actors, is do the best that we can, if we don’t actually have the experience of it. Sofia looked like she was dying, but she was a vital, young girl. Same with myself. I’m not a parent, but I know what it is to love, very deeply, something that I wouldn’t want to have taken away from me. So, all we can do is just empathize with that. We can only guess what it might feel like, from our own experiences. Would the movie have been different if Sofia had had cancer, or if Abigail had had her marrow sucked out of her, or if I’d had a child that I was close to losing? Yes, it certainly would have been a different film. But, we had a director who knew what that was, and we were fortunate to have the director be as generous as he was, in sharing what those emotions felt like, on a very real level and in a very realistic, up front, unsympathetic way. We just tried to show what the reality of that situation is and honor it the best that we could. We were fortunate to have that going for us.
Abigail: My grandpa had cancer, so I have had personal experience with it. You just take from what you do know and what you are familiar with. And, Nick was great. He just really put us in the situation, which was really great to do. It was not really fun to be in, but great to do. So, he really helped with it, but you also just have to take from what you know.
Q: Can each of you give us a preview of your upcoming films? Cameron, can you talk about recording for Shrek 4, as well as The Box with Richard Kelly, which he’s described as his attempt at a mainstream thriller?
Cameron: It’s more Kubrick-esque. It’s coming out in October, and I’d be happy to talk about it when it’s coming out. I’m very excited about it, just to have worked with Richard. And, I’m just so honored to be a part of Shrek still. It’s a wonderful gift that gives to everyone, and I love being part of it.
Abigail: I have Zombieland coming out, in October.
Sofia: I go back to Medium for Season 6, now on CBS on Fridays at 9 pm.